×

Film Review: ‘The Girl Without Hands’

A minimalist but artistically complex rendering of a lesser-known Grimm Brothers tale.

With:
Anaïs Demoustier, Jéremie Elkaïm, Philippe Laudenbach, Olivier Broche, Françoise Lebrun, Sacha Bourdo, Elina Löwensöhn.

Marking the long-anticipated feature debut of French animator Sébastien Laudenbach, a much-awarded shorts director known for his sense of line and poetry, “The Girl Without Hands” is a minimalist but artistically complex rendering of a lesser-known Grimm Brothers tale. It’s created in a striking graphic style that is light years from commercially popular toon-making, and one not usually sustained over a feature-length film. Each shimmering frame is composed of multiple layers of diverse drawing and painting techniques and washes of color combined with 2D computer animation. The delicate, pulsating brushstrokes, plus characters depicted as barely complete line drawings, thus limiting expressiveness, make it a poor fit for younger children — or anyone with a glimmer of a headache. Indeed, this is uncompromising, hand-crafted art best appreciated by teen and adult animation connoisseurs. It represents a marketing challenge for distributor Gkids, which picked up the film after it opened Cannes’ Acid program.

Unfolding in a classic three-act structure, the story centers on the eponymous girl (voiced by Anaïs Demoustier), the daughter of a miller (Olivier Broche). When a long dry spell causes the family’s mill wheel to stop turning, they come close to starvation. As the desperate miller forages in the forest for food, he meets the devil (Philippe Laudenbach, the director’s father), disguised as a huntsman, and his familiar, a pig. When the devil offers him riches for everything in back of his mill, the miller agrees, not realizing that his nature-loving offspring is at that moment perched in a tree, and thus part of the bargain. When the devil comes to claim his due, the maiden’s purity (rendered visually through much bathing) prevents him from possessing her. In retaliation, the unsatisfied devil forces the father to chop off her hands, in what is one of the film’s most primal and dramatic moments.

The second act follows the handless girl as she leaves home, is helped by a powerful river goddess (Elina Löwensöhn) and winds up married to a handsome prince (Jéremie Elkaïm), who is served by a gentle gardener (Sacha Bourdo). But when the prince answers the clarion call of war, leaving his pregnant bride behind, the devil sees a chance to try to reclaim his prize.

A joyful, proto-feminist final act sees the girl, now a mother, raising both her child and a glorious orchard in splendid isolation. Moments such as a brief lesson in toilet training typify Laudenbach’s fresh take on the tale. However, one of the helmer’s signature visuals, involving lines and images pinwheeling with a whooshing sound, can’t help but evoke commercial advertisements in which some substance returns to a bottle.

The vibrant, Fauvist color-washes and overlays represent the film’s most impressive element, recalling the cut-outs of Henri Matisse or the decorative work of Raoul Dufy. The sound effects, including slurping, gasping, and burbling or rushing water, are over-determined, but the spare, tranquil score is just right.

Anaïs Demoustier and Jéremie Elkaïm, who voice the girl and the prince, respectively, are a couple in real life.

Film Review: 'The Girl Without Hands'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Acid, opener), May 14, 2016. (Also in Annecy, competing). Running time: 76 MIN. (Original title: “La jeune fille sans mains”)

Production: (Animated - France) A Shellac (in France), Gkids (in the U.S.) release of a Les Films Sauvages production in co-production with Les Films Pelleas. (International sales: Pyramide Films, Paris.) Produced by Jean-Christophe Soulageon. Co-producers, David Thion, Philippe Martin.

Crew: Directed, written by Sébastien Laudenbach, adapted from the story by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Compositing directors, Laudenbach, Clorinde Baldassari; compositing, Julie Lespingal, Héloïse Ferlay; editors, Santi Minasi, Laudenbach; music, Olivier Mellano; sound editor, Julien Ngo-Trong; sound effects, Romain Anklewicz.  

With: Anaïs Demoustier, Jéremie Elkaïm, Philippe Laudenbach, Olivier Broche, Françoise Lebrun, Sacha Bourdo, Elina Löwensöhn.

More Film

  • Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Carolina

    Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Carolina Hellsgård's 'Sunburned' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Picture Tree Intl. has acquired the rights to Carolina Hellsgård’s “Sunburned,” the follow-up feature to her zombie drama “Endzeit – Ever After.” PTI will be presenting first footage from the film, currently in post-production, at this year’s German Films Previews (July 3-6). “Sunburned” follows solitary teenager Claire on a family holiday in Spain. Neglected by [...]

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Amy Adams (left) as Lynne Cheney

    Film News Roundup: Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Sets Awards Show for Jan. 11

    In today’s film news roundup, the 2020 awards season schedule gets finalized; AFM will cover immersive content; “Murderous Trance” and “7 Days to Vegas” get acquired; and Kate Katzman has been added to “The Comeback Trail.” AWARDS DATE The Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild has set Jan. 11 as the date for its seventh [...]

  • Disney Pandora World Of Avatar, Lake

    The Piano Guys Play 'Avatar' Theme in Disney World (Watch)

    The YouTube sensation The Piano Guys have taken a trip to the world of Pandora for a performance of the theme to “Avatar.” Shot in the bioluminescent floating forest in Disney World, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and pianist Jon Schmidt put their spin on the score to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster. The video immerses the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Billy Drago, 'Untouchables' Star, Dies at 73

    Billy Drago, who often played harming but chilling gangster roles and appeared in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” died Monday in Los Angeles of complications from a stroke. He was 73. The character actor played Al Capone’s henchman Frank Nitti in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” On TV series “Charmed,” he put [...]

  • Grant Sputore

    'I Am Mother' Director Tackles Margot Robbie-Produced Thriller 'Augmented'

    Warner Bros. has hired “I Am Mother” director Grant Sputore to helm the science-fiction thriller “Augmented” which Margot Robbie is producing, Variety has learned exclusively. Michael Lloyd Green is rewriting an original script by Mark Townend. Denise Di Novi and Tom Ackerley are also producing. Production companies are Robbie’s LuckyChap and Di Novi’s eponymous Di [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content